Positive Dad Parenting In The Early Years

This guest post by Dr. Claire Elizabeth Cameron breaks down the take-home messages on how dads contribute to early child development.

Most of the research on parenting has focused on moms. But a recent review of the literature – specifically a meta-analysis of almost two dozen studies of father involvement during early childhood – illustrates the specific parenting features by which dads have a positive influence on their kid’s development in the early years. 

During the years from 3 to 8, how much time dads spent with their kids, as well as how positively (or negatively) they interacted with them, related to how children performed on cognitive, social, and behavioral assessments. In fact, fathers made the greatest relative contribution to their children’s social and self-control skills, compared to cognitive skills.

Features of “positive dad parenting” are consistent with generally effective parenting, and include:

-        Spending time together

-        Expressing warmth to your child

-        Providing support for your child’s learning without controlling too much, or being overbearing

-        Setting appropriate limits and consistently enforcing those limits, without harshly punishing your child

Spending time together…sharing warm moments…all dads want those things. But what if your youngster is unruly, obstinate, or just plain hard to get along with? The researchers on this study acknowledge that rather than involved dads producing better behaved kids, it is just as likely that well-behaved, self-controlled children are easier for fathers to spend time with. Yet beyond this “chicken or egg” question is a clear message: early childhood is a critical time for dads to engage with their offspring.

So, Dads – what to do if your child makes it difficult to share enjoyable moments together?

First, think about what could be motivating your son or daughter’s undesirable behavior. Rarely are children deliberately trying to irritate you when they act out. Instead, he or she could be tired, hungry, or looking for some attention but not be able to ask in a more productive way. If you figure out what’s really behind the pouts or whines, it’s like playing offense instead of defense.

Second, try to model the behaviors that you want to see in your child. Want a child who can keep their temper in check? Try deep breathing or taking a moment of “time out” if you yourself become angry. Show your child the power of earning a reward (like a treat or a favorite TV program) by setting goals for yourself and indulging only after you’ve met the goals, rather than whenever you feel like it.

Third, doing just one thing at a time can make whatever you are doing more enjoyable, and this includes interacting with your child. So, for some meaningful one-on-one time, put the cell phone and video games on the shelf and find something active or creative for the two of you to do together.

Fourth, when in doubt, go easy on yourself. In this study, simply spending time together was as important for children’s behavior as cultivating specific, positive interactions that take lots of energy. So if you are exhausted at the end of a long day, just bring your child along as you relax in your regular routine. Your child will appreciate the time with you.

Claire Elizabeth Cameron is a Research Scientist with expertise in early childhood development at the University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL). She received BAs in Honors Psychology and Italian, a MS in Developmental Psychology, and a PhD in Education and Psychology from the University of Michigan before completing a Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Institute for Education Sciences at CASTL. 

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Kids Talk about Loving their Daddy
Kids Talk about Loving their Daddy
Kids Talk about Loving their Daddy

Dad and Child via Shutterstock.com

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  1. by Vanier News – December 1, 2013 | VanierNews

    On December 1, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    [...] CORNER: Positive Dad Parenting In The Early Years Author: Dr. Claire Elizabeth Cameron Source Most of the research on parenting has focused on moms. But a recent review of the literature – [...]